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‘I had never seen my dad cry:’ Deported Cambodians bewildered by country they never knew

When new deportees arrive in Cambodia on a plane from the United States, their first stop is at the Khmer Vulnerability Aid Organization in the country’s capital of Phnom Penh.

For years, one of the first faces they would see was Bill Herod’s, the Cambodian nonprofit’s spokesman and former director.

Herod, 74, grew up in Indiana but has lived in Cambodia since 1994. With a head of white hair and a beard like Santa Claus, Herod described himself as “the only white face around.” Unlike Santa, however, Herod often wears an eye patch, the result of a 2005 incident with a suicidal deportee who was attempting to drink drain cleaner. Some of the liquid was splashed into Herod’s right eye during the struggle with the drunken man, permanently damaging his cornea. 

Created under a different name in 2002, when the first group of American deportees arrived in the country, the KVAO, according Herod, “meets all returnees upon arrival, actually at the airport, on the tarmac.”
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